The window at the West end of church is our harvest window. It is the largest West Window of any parish church in the country. It was given by the farmers after a particularly good harvest in 1854. It illustrates this particular incident. You can see the disciples plucking grain, and the Pharisees arguing with Jesus.
This is not about them having a snack in between meals. This is not like walking along, seeing blackberries, picking them and eating them. It is not natures equivalent of a Freddo bar. They’ve been on the road. They have no regular income. Each day they are dependent on the generosity of others. And today they are hungry.
So they pluck the grain, they rub their hands together and they blow away the husks. Technically they are reaping, threshing and winnowing. And although you could do that on other days, the religious law said that you were not allowed to prepare food on the Sabbath.
And the Pharisees watch them, and they come to Jesus and they challenge him. ‘Your followers are doing what they should not do on the Sabbath’.
Jesus answers and he tells them that they have three problems
1. They have not got the big picture of the bible
Some people say the bible is a dangerous book. It’s anti-woman and homophobic. Others say that it is a great monument to literature, but it is out of date, and has nothing to say to us.
If that is your view, could I suggest that you read it! Not just individual verses. You can say virtually anything by doing that. Read the New Testament; at least once in your lifetime. And if you struggle with reading, then there are some great youtube versions of the whole of the gospels.
That is what Jesus says to the Pharisees. Twice he asks them, ‘Have you not read?’ (v3, v5)
Their thinking has been shaped by a little bit of bible knowledge. They knew the laws in the bible (284 requirements and 365 prohibitions). They knew that bit well!
But Jesus shows them that there is a bigger picture.
And so he points out times when people break the laws and it is OK.
He reminds them of the occasion when David and his followers are escaping from King Saul. They have nothing to eat. And so they go to the house of God and ask the priests if they have any spare food. Ahimelech the priest realises they are very hungry. He says, ‘The only food we have is the special bread which we have put aside for sacred purposes. But because you are hungry you can eat it’.
That was just on one occasion. But Jesus also reminds them that on every Sabbath the priests need to work in order to prepare the lambs for sacrifice and then for cooking. They, and the word Jesus uses is quite strong, ‘desecrate the day’, but they are completely innocent.
On the first occasion the law is broken because David and his followers are hungry. There is a need. On the second occasion the law is broken because the priests are doing a more important task.
So, says Jesus, ‘Don’t condemn my followers. You have missed the bigger picture. You have not realised that the laws were given for a purpose, and you have not realised that there is something more important than the law.’
2. They have not got the big picture about Jesus
They thought that Jesus was another Rabbi, another teacher with followers. Yes, he did amazing stuff. His teaching was inspirational. But they hadn’t got the full picture.
And Jesus makes very big claims in our verses.
a) He says (v6), ‘Something greater than the temple is here’. In other words, I am bigger than the temple – and I am bigger than all the worship of the temple.
Look at this building. Think about its size, its history and the services that have been going on here for over 700 years.
It was here long before me.
It will be here long after me.
It is so much bigger than me.
But what if I said to you: “I am more important than this building. I am more important than all the activities that go on in this building. This building was built for my glory”?
It is quite a claim. And you would probably, rightly, say ‘Who does he think that he is?’
b) Jesus says (v8), ‘I am the Lord of the Sabbath’. We are subject to time. There are moments when I wish could go back and do something differently. But I can’t. But Jesus is making an even more outrageous statement. He is saying, ‘I am bigger than all the laws of the bible. I am also bigger than time itself’.
So Jesus is claiming to be greater than David, greater than the priests, greater than all religious laws.
Please don’t miss the big picture. Jesus is not just one of several inspired religious leaders: Moses, Confucius, Buddha or Mohammed. He claims to be Lord of time.
Christianity is all about him. Spurgeon, who was a preacher in the C19th, tells the story of the young man who preached a great sermon. He asked an older person whether they liked his sermon. ‘Not much’. ‘Why?’ ‘You didn’t tell me of Jesus.’ ‘But the passage did not speak about Jesus’, he answered. ‘Young man’, came the reply, ‘Think of any town near London. It will have many roads that lead in many directions. But one of them will always lead to London. So with any passage in the Bible. There will always be one route which leads us to Jesus’.
I hope and pray that you find that route. It is not easy. In today’s world it means being very different. Jesus speaks of it being a narrow and difficult path. It begins when we bow before Jesus as the one who is bigger than any law, who is Lord of Time and Lord of our lives.
But if it is difficult, it is worth it – because there is quite simply nothing that is better than getting to know the love that Jesus Christ has for us.
There is no joy that is greater than the joy of knowing him.
There is no deeper peace than the peace that comes from intimacy with him.
And as people who take this road to Jesus we get glimpses of love, joy and peace now. He comes and lives inside us. But one day we will see him and we will know absolute love, joy and peace.
3. They have not got the big picture about mercy
Jesus quotes from the Old Testament where God says, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ (v7).
The Pharisees do not see straight.
They see the disciples break the law: ‘Look’, they say, ‘Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath’. (v2)
They see that so clearly. But they do not see men who are hungry.
We are often like them. We think things have got to be done in a particular way and we are blinded to the needs of others. And when we don’t see straight we condemn the innocent.
One American news commentator wrote this week, "In modern American capitalist society [and she could have equally said British], we put so much cultural value on work and effort and individual determination, or the idea that you're in charge of your fate.”
And because of that, many will look at people who are poor, who are hungry, whose lives are chaotic and who are messed up, and think, ‘They’re like that because they haven’t worked hard enough or they’re weak people or they are bad people’.
And we say to them what the Pharisees said to the disciples: ‘Be disciplined. Don’t break the rules. Work harder at keeping them. Be better people’.
But Jesus never did that. He did not come to tell poor people to work harder.
He did not come to tell people who live chaotic lives to pull our socks up, to control our children better, to be more disciplined, to be nicer people or even to look with compassion. He did not come to tell us to make more effort or offer bigger and better sacrifices.
So many people think that Christianity is about being good and about trying harder to be better people. And because of that they think that Christians are either hypocrites or that Christianity is not for them.
But Jesus came to show mercy to people who know they are not good enough, who are unable to pull their socks up, who are at their wits end.
And he came to show mercy to people who are blind, who are like the Pharisees, who see the breaking of the law and who do not see the hunger.
And Christianity is first about people who know that they are sinners coming to Jesus to receive mercy. And then, by the grace of God, we do begin to change.
I don’t know whether this was the intention of the designer, but the image in our window of the disciples picking grain is only part of the picture.
If you look underneath there is the image of Jesus on the cross.
That is what Jesus is all about. He reaches out in love to all people. He gives hope to the poor and hungry. He shatters the pretensions of the rich. He came to die in our place on the cross because our thinking is twisted, because we don’t realise that it is all about him, and because we are blind to the needs of others. He made the one sacrifice, so that all can receive mercy. And because of that sacrifice we are forgiven. And it is only when we have received mercy from God that we can begin to show mercy to others.
And if you look to either side of the image of the disciples, you will see 8 small illustrations. And here we are shown people who are feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the sick, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners and welcoming strangers.
And that is because when we receive that sacrifice – when we realise just how dependent we are on the mercy of God - then we will begin to see the bigger picture. We will look with compassion, we will not condemn the innocent and, by the power of God, we will begin to show mercy.